Heavenly Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I am pleased to present my all-time favorite dessert recipe for company: chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

What do I mean, ‘for company’? Well, you remember how in the Little House on the Prairie books, Ma Ingalls made Vanity Cakes whenever ‘company’ (i.e. visitors) came over or when there was a super special occasion? Other times, she made desserts out of things they had on hand, like in-season fruit pies or maple candy. But for company, she often whipped out her vanity cakes because were quick, easy, delicious, and offered an element of fanciness to the gathering.

(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I feel sorry for you. And also, you should definitely go read the Little House on the Prairie books.)

Well, these chocolate chip cookies are my ‘vanity cakes’. They’re the default go-to when I need to bring a dessert to a party or am having a large group of people over to my house. Chocolate chip cookies, to be fair, don’t provide any level of fanciness – they’re the quintessential, all-American dessert, after all. But they are well liked by pretty much everyone, even people who aren’t semi-hippies who happily crunch of desserts made of flax seeds and cacao beans.

(Hi. Resident hippie here. Flax seeds and cacao beans are delicious).

Obviously, chocolate chip cookies aren’t the only thing I make for other people – I’ll gladly provide pies, cakes, muffin, and other kinds of cookies, like my delightful peanut butter ones. But they are my default, and the item I pretty much always make for strangers (who might have peanut allergies or dislike oatmeal or fruit because they’re weird).

So without further ado, here’s a step-by-step guide! Shortened recipe is at the bottom.

Long Version of Recipe, with Pictures & Lots of Words!

A Quick Note

This chocolate chip cookie recipe has been tweaked to provide optimal results, but the cookies are still really, really good without all of the steps. If you want to just throw the ingredients together and bake them immediately like you would most cookie recipes (because you are in a hurry), you can totally do that, and they’ll be delicious.

But the recipe describes a few weird steps, like melting and then freezing butter, refrigerating dough overnight, and the exact time to take the cookies out of the oven. Doing it that way provides even better results. But you do what you want; you’re an adult. Or if you’re not, you’re at least enough of an adult to be allowed to use the kitchen, which is good enough for me.

Ingredients

5 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. white sugar or ground sucanat
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 oz dark chocolate chips (or an amount to suit your tastes)

Part 1: The Butter

When I was hunting for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, I quickly discovered that either recipes called for softened butter, and the cookies came out the texture I wanted, or they called for melted butter and tasted better, but spread out super thin during baking, which I didn’t like. The solution, was to melt the butter and re-harden it again.

Why? Well, I don’t just mean “melt” the butter. I don’t have a microwave, so I when I melt butter I do it on the stove top like an Old Person from the Dark Ages.

I know, I know. It’s weird. I like the stove top. It’s not a health issue thing (nobody’s ever been able to convince me that microwaves are inherently unhealthy), it’s just a preference thing.

So anyway, when you melt butter on the stove top, you can let it cook just a little bit longer to achieve ‘browned butter’ – a delightful, caramelized flavor that occurs after the butter melts, and before it starts to burn. This adds wonderfulness to your cookies.

To achieve this, go ahead and melt your butter in a pot, on the stove. I know, I know, it’s super weird. Just do it. In case you’re confused and don’t know how to do this without a microwave, you stick the butter in the pot and turn the burner on med-low. Then you wait.

Once you have melted butter, you need to watch the butter, stirring occasionally. Don’t let it burn. That’d be gross. Depending on the BTUs of your burner, you may want to turn it down to low. When it’s done, it should look more brownish, instead of yellowish.

Then, to get the texture of the cookies right, you just re-harden the butter. I’m not a patient cook, so I do this by sticking the pot in the freezer once it cools enough to handle. About 10 minutes later, it’s ready to go. Alternately, you can stick it outside in the snow, or in the fridge, or just leave it on the counter. Obviously, the freezer is the fastest.

I want to point out that this whole step is optional. You can just used softened butter if you want, or melted butter if you like that texture of cookie better. Browned butter makes the cookies taste better, but if you don’t have time, you can skip it.

But you shouldn’t skip it because it doesn’t take very long. And while your butter is re-hardening, you can just do something else. No biggie.

Part 2: The Normal Part

After the butter thing, the recipe proceeds fairly normally.

  1. Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the two types of sugar. Set that aside too.
    A Quick Note on Sugar

    The recipe calls for white and dark brown sugar. I always, always, always make

    Homemade brown sugar!

    my brown sugar by mixing a little bit of molasses into my white sugar. More molasses makes darker brown sugar. Homemade brown sugar is significantly moister and more flavorful than the stuff you buy in the store, so I would absolutely recommend doing that.

    You can also make the ‘brown sugar’ out of sucanat (otherwise known as rapadura), which is a less-processed form of sugar. I like using sucanat in my baking recipes, but in this case I’m using regular sugar because not everyone appreciates the subtle flavor nuances of sucanat.  Personally, I think sucanat makes these cookies better. But non-weird-people might disagree. You do you, but remember – Ma Ingalls always kept a little white sugar on hand for company.

    Okay, back to the recipe part:

  3. When butter is the right consistency (see picture below), go ahead and cream the butter into the sugar mixture.
  4. Add egg and vanilla to the butter/sugar mixture. Beat well – the texture should be consistent and smooth, since you’re basically done mixing now.
  5. GRADUALLY mix in the flour mixture. The ‘gradually’ part is important, because you don’t want to over-mix. With most baked goods, it’s really important not to over-mix the batter once you add the flour. Remember the baking science: mixing flour and liquid creates gluten (which is why you knead bread). Gluten changes the texture of the final product – it makes things tougher and chewier. That’s great for French bread, but not so great for cookies.  Of course, like everything, this step is open to interpretation. You go head and mix that dough as much as your heart desires – see what texture you like better.
  6. Add the chocolate chips. Again, add gradually and don’t overmix.
    A Note on Chocolate

    I’ve tried a whole bunch of different methods of adding chocolate to cookies, and my favorite (by far) is to dice up really good, 85% dark chocolate into tiny chunks. That’s also a more time consuming and expensive option. You can add whatever type of chocolate you want. Generally, if I’m baking for other people, I stick with Nestle’s Dark Chocolate Chips. It’s not my personal favorite, but it’s a crowd pleaser. Use whatever works for you. You can also add nuts or pretzels or whatever you normally add to cookies at this step.

Part 3: Baking the Cookies

Okay, now it gets weird again. I’m going to tell you that for the BEST results, you should refrigerate the dough for at least an hour, or for as long as 24 hours.  Doing this allows the flavors to meld, and makes the cookies better.

That being said, the difference is subtle and if it works better for your schedule, you can absolutely skip this step.

Usually, if I’m having people over, I’ll make the dough the night before and refrigerate it overnight. Then I can quickly throw the cookies in the oven right before people arrive, and there’s oven-hot cookies to offer everyone…without very much work on my part.  Remember the part about seeming fancy? In my world, oven-hot cookies without a giant mess in the kitchen positively screams ‘fancy’.

Then again, if I’m taking the cookies somewhere, I’ll skip this step as often as not. Whatever works, right?

Anyway.

7) Scoop the cookies onto a baking sheet (or multiple baking sheets) and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-12 minutes. The range is fairly high, because everyone’s oven is different. You may also need to rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking if your oven doesn’t cook evenly.

8) Remove the cookies when the edges are just starting to brown and the centers are still quite soft, and not quite cooked. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. NOBODY LIKES OVER-BAKED COOKIES.

9) LEAVE the cookies in the baking sheet to finish baking. Yes, it’s true: they will literally finish baking on the hot sheet, outside of the oven. This prevents that over-baking thing. Alternately, you can devour the hot, mostly-baked cookies and burn your mouth. Personally, I think that’s the better option.

It’s hard to see in this photo, but edges are brown and the centers aren’t fully baked. As they sit on the cookie sheet, they will finish cooking and spread out a little bit more.

Also, if you left the cookies in a little too long and it looks like the centers are cooked and the edges are really brown, just remove the cookies from the sheet immediately and get them on a wire rack to prevent them from cooking further.

That’s it! That’s the cookie recipe.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s really not. It’s one of the quickest, easiest desserts ever, with fantastic results. Let me simplify the directions, to prove it:

Short Version of Recipe

Yield – 1 dzn cookies.

Ingredients

5 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. white sugar or ground sucanat
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 oz dark chocolate chips (or an amount to suit your tastes)

Directions:
  1. Melt butter in saucepan over med-low heat. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until butter begins to brown.
  2. Remove butter from heat, and cool until semi-solid. Quickest way: stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes
  3. Meanwhile, mix flour, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
  4. Separately, mix sugars together and set aside.
  5. Once butter is semi-solid, cream together butter and sugar.
  6. Mix egg and vanilla into butter/sugar mixture. Beat until smooth.
  7. Add flour mixture gradually. Don’t over mix.
  8. Mix in chocolate chips  gradually (or nuts or whatever you want), again taking care not to over-mix.
  9. (optional) Cover, and refrigerate dough 1 hr or overnight.
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  11. Scoop cookies onto cookie sheet(s) and bake for 8-12 minutes, checking regularly (every oven is different!).
  12. Remove from oven when edges barely start to brown, and centers are still soft
  13. Leave on cookie sheet to finish baking and to cool, for about 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

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